It sometimes seems we are not supposed to have feelings at work. We are just supposed to focus on the task in hand, work hard and get on with it. This is not realistic; people do have feelings at work. When things aren’t working well we feel bad, find it hard to think and may do silly things that make things worse. Just expressing how we feel and listening to each other can help us feel better and perform much better.
Here are two real stories that show the power of sharing feelings at work.
The failing SAPS project
A director had less than a day to bring together key people in the implementation team of a substantial SAPS project and turn it round. They came from the US and Europe and there had been delays, technical and cultural difficulties, frustration, conflict and bad feeling and the project was in serious difficulty. It would have cost millions to cancel it and start again.
He thought that everybody involved was feeling bad. He decided, after talking to me, to ask them to say a few words only about how they felt about the project at the team meeting. Initially, there was silence, so he waited patiently. Then one person said she was fed up, everybody soon joined in and listened to each other. Then they wanted to find a way forward that was more productive.
This led to more open and direct communication among all the parties, and to changes in the structure and time scale of the work. The project was successful.
The blocked wages negotiation
Union and Management negotiations were stuck. Progress was painfully slow and the lead manager was totally fed up. He decided he had to do something different to break the deadlock.
At the next meeting, he asked everybody in the room simply to say a few words about how they felt about the negotiation. They said they were fed up, exasperated, frustrated, sad and bored. After an hour, they still had two hours to go back to the negotiation. They made more progress in those two hours than they had in the previous two months.
Sharing feelings in one-to-one situations
The most powerful thing any of us can do to make a connection with another person is to be authentic. Just state how you feel and what you want. You can do this without blaming. For instance, you may find working with a colleague, or boss, frustrating. You could say “Jack, I am finding the way we work together frustrating, would you be willing to talk about how we might work together better?” Then keep quiet, be attentive and your colleague will respond.
You can’t think clearly when you feel bad. When you share your feelings with someone who is listening, they disperse and lose their power. Anyone can initiate a conversation where people can express what they feel. You don’t have to be the boss or ask for permission. It can make an enormous difference.